Looking back, the 1990s feel like a time of unbridled prosperity — especially when it comes to movies. In putting together our list of the best ’90s movies on HBO Max, Mashable found that many of today’s modern classics were borne of this weird, wonderful decade.
Some ’90s films were so iconic that we’ve already got them in our exhaustive list of the best movies on HBO Max from any era. That’s why you won’t see The Matrix or Tom Hanks bangers like You’ve Got Mail and A League of Their Own — because that man is the best of the ’90s!
So pour yourself a Zima and disconnect that landline. Here are the 19 best ’90s movies on HBO Max.
Tom Cruise may have needed it, but Keanu Reeves redefined speed with this 1994 action thriller. A Los Angeles bus is strapped with a bomb that will go off if the bus drives too slowly, so LAPD Officer Jack Traven (Reeves) boards the bus to save everyone on it. The film takes place in real-time on the bus, where passengers panic and search desperately for a solution, all while Jack tracks the bomber and everyone must keep the bus traveling fast enough. Director Jan de Bont delivers a film so rife with adrenaline that finishing it feels like getting off a rollercoaster. Come for the thrills; stay for Sandra Bullock. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Speed is now streaming on HBO Max.
2. The Mummy
They just don’t make ’em like The Mummy anymore.
It’s a period supernatural action movie underscored by smoldering chemistry between an Egyptologist and an outrageously charming himbo with the job description “adventurer,” and there are locusts. The Mummy came out at the peak of Brendan Fraser’s powers as bona fide movie star and stands as the breakout Hollywood performance of Rachel Weisz, who’s still reminding everyone who’s in charge with roles like Sarah Churchill in The Favourite and Melina Voskoff in Marvel’s Black Widow.
The Mummy is the perfect late ’90s blend of romance, humor, weird CGI, and genuine fun in a popcorn movie package. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: The Mummy is now streaming on HBO Max.
In any honest ranking of Stephen King adaptations, Misery deserves a spot near the top of the list.
King’s 1987 novel about a mystery writer who gets kidnapped and tortured by a super-fan translates beautifully to cinema, especially under the capable direction of Rob Reiner. Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, the disturbed nurse who chains author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) to a bed and forces him to write the kind of story she wants to read.
It’s a bit quaint by today’s standards of horror, but the psychological thrills and chills of Misery remain strong. — Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter/Weekend Editor
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4. Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is hands down one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best movies, and that’s saying something because it has some stiff competition. It’s an epic fantasy that tells the interweaving stories of Ashitaka, a prince burdened with a curse, and San, a woman raised by wolves. They find themselves embroiled in a war between god and man, nature and technology.
One of the most exciting things about Princess Mononoke is its moral ambiguity: Characters on either side of the conflict genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing, even if it’s at the expense of others. On top of that, the animation is gorgeous (but what else would you expect from Studio Ghibli?), as is Joe Hisaishi’s score. You’ll be immediately immersed in a world of forest gods, demons, and epic battles, and you’ll be unable to tear yourself away until the movie is over. — Belen Edwards, Entertainment Fellow
How to watch: Princess Mononoke is now streaming on HBO Max.
It’s the metric by which so many scary films are assessed: BS or AS? You know, Before Scream and After Scream? See, for horror fans, Wes Craven’s 1996 movie is a Christ-like figure — an entity so unabashedly game-changing that genre aficionados regularly categorize other releases by whether they came before or after it — and with good reason.
In this iconic genre parody, Neve Campbell stars as scream queen Sidney Prescott. When a masked serial killer begins to pick off Sidney’s friends one by one, she uses the tropes of horror films to try and suss out who or what is behind the murders. The whodunnit spurred countless , and immeasurable experimentation in the genre. But more than that legacy, it’s also a tremendously good watch that stands the test of time. — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Scream is now streaming on HBO Max.
6. Space Jam
There can be no debate over the best sports movie of the ’90s — nay, of history. Space Jam stars Michael Jordan as himself, a retired basketball player and underwhelming baseball player who gets caught in an all-star game for the ages. The cartoon Monstars, a group of aliens from Moron Mountain, have stolen the basketball talent of prolific NBA players, and it’s up to Jordan and the Looney Tunes to beat them in a game and set things right. With signature Looney Tune one-liners, high-stakes athletic competition with a lot of heart, and a surprising amount of Bill Murray, Space Jam still scores big. — P.K.
How to watch: Space Jam is now streaming on HBO Max.
7. Happy Gilmore
The ’90s were prime years for Adam Sandler, movie star, and Happy Gilmore remains one of his most beloved comedies from the era. (Though if you’re more of a Billy Madison fan, HBO Max has that one, too.) Sandler plays a middling hockey player who turns out to be a fantastic golfer, upending the genteel sport with his brash persona and attention-grabbing antics — so much so that he attracts the ire not only of golf pro Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald, delivering one of the most delightfully punchable faces of all time) but The Price is Right host Bob Barker.
Like Happy himself, Happy Gilmore isn’t for everyone. But those who love classic Sandler will find few better examples of his winning combination of goofball humor, bottomless rage, and disarming sweetness. – Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor
How to watch: Happy Gilmore is now streaming on HBO Max.
8. Cruel Intentions
It’s simply the most delicious fun!
Based on the Les Liaisons dangereuses, but set among modern-day rich NYC prep school teens, the film is beloved, if not quite critically acclaimed. No matter: Selma Blair, Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillipe and Sarah Michelle Gellar are all having a blast — and you will too, watching all of the sexy intrigue as the scheming teens hatch plans to seduce and trick each other. The film was a teenage sleepover mainstay circa 2000 full of iconic-at-the-time moments like Gellar & Blair’s kiss and Witherspoon and Phillipe in the pool. And the soundtrack? Flashback perfection. — Erin Strecker, Entertainment Editor
How to watch: Cruel Intentions is now streaming on HBO Max.
9. Pulp Fiction
In the almost 20 years since Pulp Fiction hit theaters, Quentin Tarantino has become many things to many people — but Pulp Fiction remains some of his best work. Based on the violence and rapport of pulp novels and magazines, the film follows Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) in various chapters of their life of crime. But if you’ve seen Pulp Fiction or been vehemently told to, you know this isn’t a film for story. It’s a film you watch for structure, for style, for self-awareness and genre-bending and the alchemical pairing of Travolta and Jackson. The only itch you can scratch in watching Pulp Fiction is wanting to watch Pulp Fiction — and for that, nothing else comes close. — P.K.
How to watch: Pulp Fiction is now streaming on HBO Max.
10. Boogie Nights
As with its protagonist, there’s more to Boogie Nights than one really big dick — though that dick is famous for good reason. Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout feature is an intoxicating ride through the porn industry from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. The cast is top-notch: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all come out to play. The soundtrack is glittery disco perfection. So are the costumes and sets.
Its central story, about the meteoric rise and fall of porn star Dirk Diggler (Wahlberg), follows familiar beats, but there’s nothing generic about its sense of time and place, and nothing predictable about its audacious style and depth of feeling. — A.H.
How to watch: Boogie Nights is now streaming on HBO Max.
11. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the only traditionally animated Batman movie to get a theatrical release. It is also a masterpiece of ’90s Batman storytelling. In Mask, which takes place outside the canon of Batman: The Animated Series but is created by the same team, another side of Bruce Wayne’s origin story emerges when he meets a childhood friend at his family’s grave and falls for her. This rare love story reframes Bruce’s later transformation into Batman as a horrific choice to abandon his chance at a normal life and actively embrace the tortured life of a vigilante, a choice that comes back to haunt him years later in the form of the mysterious villain The Phantasm. — A.N.
How to watch: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is now streaming on HBO Max.
Even the uninitiated might be familiar with the plot of Se7en, which strays little from its summary: Detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) pursue a serial killer who executes his victims based on the seven deadly sins. The plot is simple, but Se7en keeps you hooked on the killer’s pattern and motives, invoking a morbid curiosity for which sin he’ll hit next and how. Wills and Somerset have a subtly fractious dynamic unlike the arguably overdone odd-couple cop pairings across TV and film, and whether they’re hot or cold the film works in their favor. Anxiety thrums throughout, until the final, fateful twist and well beyond it — cementing this as a ’90s film for the ages. — P.K.
How to watch: Se7en is now streaming on HBO Max.
This enduring cult hit from the early years of the information age casts Robert Redford as Martin Brice, who heads up a group of cybersecurity specialists — a cast that includes Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, and River Phoenix — who help clients harden their digital defenses against hacker intrusions. Their safe world is torn asunder when a new government client leads the group to a powerful and unique decoder capable of breaking any encryption. The plot thickens further when Martin learns that everything he’s dealing with has an unexpected tie to a dark moment from his past. Also starring Ben Kingsley and Mary McDonnell. — A.R.
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14. The Crow
The Crow is a comic book superhero movie from before everything was a comic book superhero movie, centering on a rock musician (Brandon Lee, who died making the film) who’s brought back from the dead to avenge his own murder, along with that of his fiancée’s. But what really makes The Crow special is that it is a mood: dripping with goth style, drowning in unbridled angst, and vibing to an incredible soundtrack that includes The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine.
It’s so cherished even to this day that there’s been a reboot in the works off and on for a decade now — but forget about that. The original remains a rare and precious gem even to this day. – A.H.
How to watch: The Crow is now streaming on HBO Max.
15. Death Becomes Her
As far as crimes of the ’90s go, Death Becomes Her not immediately wowing audiences is one of the most shocking. But thanks to the LGBTQ community, humanity has mostly come to its senses since, embracing the Robert Zemeckis-directed black comedy as an all-time cinematic great.
In the movie, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn star as feuding frenemies, Madeline Ashton and Helen Sharp. The pair’s petty fight over the dashing Dr. Ernest Menville, played by Bruce Willis, ends in catastrophe when the women separately make deals with a powerful enchantress, played by Isabella Rossellini, to achieve eternal beauty. It, as you might imagine, doesn’t go so great for them.
What follows is a spectacular sendup of societal expectations that lambasts everything from vanity and wealth to perceived intelligence. Death Becomes Her is a movie for when you’re feeling fucked up, but still fabulous. It’s campy and ridiculous, but at its core, professes timeless suggestions to stay grounded, be kind, and accept that you can never be anyone but yourself. — A.F.
How to watch: Death Becomes Her is now streaming on HBO Max.
16. Defending Your Life
It behooves fans of The Good Place, and in particular creator Michael Schur’s unique vision of the afterlife, to check out Defending Your Life. Written and directed by Albert Brooks, this 1991 romantic comedy stars Brooks as Daniel Miller, a schlubby advertising exec who never did much with his life before he died at age 39. He soon ends up in Judgment City, a sort of way station to the real afterlife where visitors are put on a sort of trial that runs through the events of their existence and measures how they’ve grown and tackled their inner fears. Daniel looks like a surefire bet for another go-round on Earth, but his situation gets complicated when he meets Julia (Meryl Streep), a saint of a woman who seems like a sure bet to move on. — A.R.
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17. Point Break
Point Break is about as flawless a distillation of early ’90s film trends as any movie can get. There’s palpable awe for surfers, bank robberies, a zany FBI agent played by Gary Busey, and the eroticization of male friendship bordering on obsession between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. When Reeves’ FBI agent Johnny Utah (also a very ’90s name) needs to infiltrate California’s surf scene to track down a crew of bank robbers, he can’t blend in until he catches the attention of Bodhi (Swayze), the crew’s super charismatic and reckless leader. Utah’s tight-laced attitude doesn’t last long under Bodhi’s influence, and the conflict of Bodhi’s dark charm and Utah’s mission leads to an action-packed crisis of conscience. And skydiving. A conflict of crisis and skydiving. — A.N.
How to watch: Point Break is now streaming on HBO Max.
18. Wag the Dog
Director Barry Levinson directs this blisteringly funny political satire scripted by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, and starring the powerhouse duo of Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. De Niro plays Conrad Brean, an ace political fixer and spin doctor who’s called in by Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), a White House aide, after the U.S. president is caught in a sex scandal just a couple weeks before the upcoming election. To redirect the public’s attention, Brean hires Hollywood super-producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) to help him cook up a staged war in Albania and give the media something to focus on that’s more compelling than a sex scandal. It works at first, but things quickly spiral out of control. — A.R.
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19. The Last Boy Scout
It may not be the best-known buddy action comedy of the ’90s, but it’s the only one that teams up Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. It also takes a hard look at professional football, tying up the movie’s fictionalized league in a big-money corruption plot that’s exposed when Damon’s Jimmy Dix, a disgraced ex-quarterback, sets out to investigate the murder of someone who was close to him. That leads him to the doorstep of Joe Hallenbeck (Willis), an ex-Secret Service agent-turned-private detective who has demons and vices of his own. — A.R.
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